While a boxing story film didn’t excite Avildsen at first, the director was moved by the urban character study of Sylvester Stallone’s script. He went on to win an Oscar for directing “Rocky,” but held out on helming part two in lieu of another project. “It was one of my greatest mistakes,” says Avildsen. Stallone invited the director back for the franchise’s fifth installment.
L.A. in for Philly: “The studio wanted us to shoot ‘Rocky’ in Los Angeles. I said, ‘It takes place in winter, and Los Angeles doesn’t look like Philadelphia.’ We couldn’t afford to go to Philadelphia since our budget was less than $1 million. I told the studio that I had a non-union crew in New York who could spend a week in Philadelphia to shoot exteriors. The studio agreed and then after three days, they got cold feet and brought us back to L.A. to shoot the film’s interiors, should the unions get wise to our situation.
Fancy footwork: “During ‘Rocky,’ Stallone was a starving actor who was attentive to everything; having nothing else in mind but the production. … I watched some old fight films during the shoot and noticed that the boxing styles looked phony. I convinced the producers to give us extra time to rehearse our fight sequences. … The first day at a gym in Santa Monica, Sylvester started verbally blocking the scene. I told him to go home and write out the fight shot by shot so we’d learn it like a ballet. He returned with 32 pages of lefts and rights. ”
Playing with life and death: “Rocky was suppose to die in ‘V’ after a brawl with Tommy Gunn. It was written that on the way to the hospital, he was to die in Adrian’s lap. She then announces to the world press that Rocky is dead, but his spirit will live on forever. We started shooting this over two weeks when a studio exec called and told me, ‘Rocky doesn’t die. These people — James Bond, Batman — they don’t die.’ “